Fat Bulls of Bashan and the Cross of Christ Psalm 22:12
Fat Bulls of Bashan and the Cross of Christ Psalm 22:12
By Christina Wilson
September 23, 2012
NET Psalm 22:12 Many bulls surround me; powerful bulls of Bashan hem me in.
I recall reading someone's opinion once that the strong bulls of Bashan had nothing to do with what was happening to Jesus at the cross. As the phrase for me has always been a graphic image of poetic prophecy conveying its message clearly, I decided to finally look into it on my own.
1) Considering all the events that surrounded the arrest, trial, scourging, and crucifixion of our Lord, the only way one could possibly say that verse 12 of Psalm 22 has nothing to do with Jesus at the cross is to treat the words as concrete literalism only.
a) Was Christ surrounded by four-footed bovines with gouging horns? Obviously, no.
But then one needs to ask, who was? Psalm 22 is David's Psalm--does scripture record a time when King David was surrounded by these powerfully bellowing creatures? Not to my knowledge. So on this count alone, we need to discard the image as being concrete.
b) Verse 6 of Psalm 22 says, "But I am a worm, not a man...". Verse 16 reads, "Yes, wild dogs surround me...". Was either Christ or David a concretely literal worm? Were there wild dogs at the foot of the cross, or was David once surrounded by wild dogs, as in Call of the Wild? No, these are poetic images, just as the bulls of Bashan are poetic images.
c) King David was a poet and a songwriter (2 Samuel 22:1; 1 Chronicles 13:8; Psalm 133:1). Verbal images are to poetry what color and texture are to a painting. Knowing that Psalm 22 uses poetic images, the reader needs to enter in to the intent of the writer--what does the writer convey with the verbal pictures?
2) What does it mean for a psalm to be messianically prophetic?
a) When Jesus cried out "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Psalm 22:1), was He reciting a scripture verse from memory in order to fulfill it, thereby making it prophetic?
What does the writer to the Hebrews say?
NIV Hebrews 9:23 It was necessary, then, for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these.
The Darby Bible uses the phrase "figurative representations" in place of "copies".
NET Hebrews 9:24 For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with hands– the representation of the true sanctuary– but into heaven itself, and he appears now in God's presence for us.
NET Hebrews 10:1 For the law possesses a shadow of the good things to come but not the reality itself...
NET Hebrews 8:5 The place where they serve is a sketch and shadow of the heavenly sanctuary, just as Moses was warned by God as he was about to complete the tabernacle. For he says, "See that you make everything according to the design shown to you on the mountain."
The above verses from Hebrews explain that Old Testament concrete realities--the sanctuary, or tabernacle, with its holy furniture (Hebrews 8:5 and 9:23-24) and the law itself (Hebrews 10:1)--were really "copies", "figurative representations", and a "shadow" of the true sanctuary in heaven and the truly "good things to come" but "not the reality itself" (Hebrews 10:1).
Human beings by nature are concrete rather than spiritual, because that which was spiritual died in the Fall of Man in the Garden of Eden. God, however, is Spirit and Truth. Before Pentecost, God could only speak to men, for the most part, by means of concrete "representations" rather than spiritual realities.
NET 1 Corinthians 3:1 So, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but instead as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ.
NIV Hebrews 9:8 The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still functioning. 9 This is an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper. 10 They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings--external regulations applying until the time of the new order. 11 But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation.
What Paul in Corinthians and the writer of the letter to the Hebrews is saying is that with the advent of Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit, a great and powerful change has occurred. That change is the great shift from the concrete to regenerated spiritual. That which was dead in man has been reborn in Christ.
Therefore, if the concrete realities of Old Testament types were really "figurative representations" pointing to a future time of life and Spirit in Christ, which time is now, then can we not say that the prophecies themselves were the "sketch" and "shadow" of the "good things to come"?
In other words, the prophecies, written as they were by God Himself, who is the sole author of all scripture (2 Timothy 3:16 and 2 Peter 1:20), were mainly signposts pointing forward to that time of their fulfillment.
NET Luke 24:44 Then he said to them, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled."
NET Galatians 3:8 And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, proclaimed the gospel to Abraham ahead of time, saying, "All the nations will be blessed in you."
NET 1 Peter 1:10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who predicted the grace that would come to you searched and investigated carefully. 11 They probed into what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating when he testified beforehand about the sufferings appointed for Christ and his subsequent glory. 12 They were shown that they were serving not themselves but you, in regard to the things now announced to you through those who proclaimed the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven– things angels long to catch a glimpse of.
NET Acts 2:25 For David says about him, 'I saw the Lord always in front of me, for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken. 26 Therefore my heart was glad and my tongue rejoiced; my body also will live in hope, 27 because you will not leave my soul in Hades, nor permit your Holy One to experience decay. 28 You have made known to me the paths of life; you will make me full of joy with your presence.' 29 "Brothers, I can speak confidently to you about our forefather David, that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 So then, because he was a prophet and knew that God had sworn to him with an oath to seat one of his descendants on his throne, 31 David by foreseeing this spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was neither abandoned to Hades, nor did his body experience decay. 32 This Jesus God raised up, and we are all witnesses of it.
b) Therefore, concluding what the verses in "a" urge us to conclude, we can understand that from the cross Christ was not so much reciting Psalm 22:1, but rather, through divine foresight of knowledge--i.e., prophecy--Psalm 22:1 was, as it were, reciting the words of Christ from the cross.
c) Is there any reason, given that Psalm 22 is a unified whole, and given that ten of the verses were either quoted or fulfilled in the New Testament (Psalm 22:1, 7, 8, 15, 16, 17, 18, 22, 24, and 28), for not considering the entire Psalm to be about the crucifixion of Christ?
Authors who do consider the entirety of Psalm 22 to be about the crucifixion of Jesus Christ include the writers of The Orthodox Study Bible,1 Andrew A. Bonar,2 Charles H. Spurgeon, who writes, "David and his afflictions may be here in a very modified sense, but, as the star is concealed by the light of the sun, he who sees Jesus will probably neither see nor care to see David,"3 and many others whom Spurgeon quotes.
d) Since the "bulls of Bashan" are part of the Psalm, then they, too, would relate in some way to the scene of the cross.
3) What is the purpose of a messianically prophetic psalm?
a) First and foremost, the purpose of messianic prophecy is to verify that Jesus Christ, son of Joseph and Mary, is indeed the long awaited Messiah, the Son of God.
NET Acts 3:18 But the things God foretold long ago through all the prophets– that his Christ would suffer– he has fulfilled in this way.
NET Acts 3:24 And all the prophets, from Samuel and those who followed him, have spoken about and announced these days.
b) Secondly, and almost as important, the messianically prophetic psalms reveal the nature and character of the human being side of Jesus, the Son of God.
The Psalms, of which so many are written directly about Jesus Christ, are for the most part written from a first person perspective. Generalizing, the writers of the Psalms are writing from a personal, introspective vantage point. We hear thoughts, prayers, and emotions expressed.
c) The Gospels, as history, record the words and actions of Christ as viewed by others. The Gospels show us Jesus the Son of God as He performs signs, wonders, and miracles of healing and compassion. We hear Him teach, ask questions, and answer the questions of others. The Gospels, for the most part, do not tell us what Jesus the man thought to Himself and felt--His emotions, His manhood.
d) The Psalms reveal in detailed magnificence the heart, mind, and soul of Christ the man. Who, reading through Psalms, cannot identify point by point with the passions, dare I say fears, deep, deep, sobbing depression of spirit, and soaring worship expressed by these Psalms? This is our God, our Savior, Jesus Christ.
NET Hebrews 4:15 For we do not have a high priest incapable of sympathizing with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way just as we are, yet without sin.
NET Hebrews 5:8 Although he was a son, he learned obedience through the things he suffered.
NET Hebrews 4:16 Therefore let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace whenever we need help.
Who, after reading the Psalms, is not humbled by and cannot love this Man? We, who walk the valley of tribulation in the footsteps of our Lord and Master, can love and trust Him, to whom and for whom these Psalms were written, to forgive and love us, as we see in His own words, prophetically spoken by the prophets who wrote them, what we ourselves experience day by day by day. --Except that Jesus' pathos and suffering went far, far deeper than anything we could possibly know or experience. But, by reading the Psalms, we come closer to understanding what Christ suffered than if we did not have them.
For example, the gospel tells us--
NET John 19:28 After this Jesus, realizing that by this time everything was completed, said (in order to fulfill the scripture), "I am thirsty!"
The psalm tells us--
LXE Psalm 22:15 My strength is dried up, like a potsherd; and my tongue is glued to my throat; and thou hast brought me down to the dust of death.
Both are true and correct.
In Jesus' own human words, the words of a human being like us, we learn of His tremendous devotion to and dependence upon His Father, who was His God. We learn about His faith in time of trial, His thanksgiving, His worship of God the Father. We are told of these things in the gospels, but, compared to the Psalms, the gospels are summaries. The Psalms give flesh and blood to the human man-God. We hear the Son of God praying in the Psalms. So many of these record prophetically His heart cries to God His Father. Jesus walked through His life, then by His atoning death and resurrection split the Universe into before and after, as a man. The Psalms show us His manhood.
God the Holy Spirit, in His wisdom, included both the historical documents, the gospels, and the poetically intimate prophecies, the Psalms, to tell us about His Son. We need both.
4) So, what do the "powerful bulls of Bashan", the "fat" and "strong" bulls of Bashan, tell me about the scene at the cross?
a) Although in my whole life I may never have heard of Bashan, I have heard (and seen) very large bulls. I do not need a concordance or lexicon to understand what the psalmist is telling me here.
b) The psalmist's life is in danger, and it ain't pretty. Are these bulls? As a retired second grade school teacher, I think I will admit that I would probably need to explain to my class that these bulls are not animals, but people. Most likely, however, by fifth grade, I think most students would know that for themselves without being told.
c) A search in a concordance or Bible dictionary, however, does add special significance to these "bullish" people, in that Bashan was the kingdom of Og, a name which itself means "gigantic". King Og was a pagan enemy of the Israelites, the last of the Rephaim, or giants.
NET Deuteronomy 3:11 Only King Og of Bashan was left of the remaining Rephaites. (It is noteworthy that his sarcophagus was made of iron. Does it not, indeed, still remain in Rabbath of the Ammonites? It is thirteen and a half feet long and six feet wide according to standard measure.)
d) In verse 12, then, Jesus is surrounded by very large pagan men seeking to do violence upon Him. And they did.
e) However, in verses 27-29, we see that these very same pagans will be offered the only salvation ever made available to mankind, salvation granted them by the Lamb of God, because of the cross; or, they will worship Him as vanquished foes. Either way, these "bulls of Bashan" will bend their knees to the victor of their dark domain.
NET Psalm 22:27 Let all the people of the earth acknowledge the LORD and turn to him! Let all the nations worship you! 28 For the LORD is king and rules over the nations. 29 All of the thriving people of the earth will join the celebration and worship; all those who are descending into the grave will bow before him, including those who cannot preserve their lives.
NET Isaiah 45:23 I solemnly make this oath– what I say is true and reliable: 'Surely every knee will bow to me, every tongue will solemnly affirm; 24 they will say about me, "Yes, the LORD is a powerful deliverer."'" All who are angry at him will cower before him.
NET Philippians 2:10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow– in heaven and on earth and under the earth–
5) Have you yourself met the Man of Psalm 22 in all His fullness? If yes, then rejoice with the Psalmist's people, His church, in verse 31.
LXE Psalm 22:31 And they shall report his righteousness to the people that shall be born, whom the Lord has made.
NIV Psalm 22:31 They will proclaim his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn: He has done it!
Again, have you yourself met the Man of Psalm 22 in all His fullness? If not, why not? His arms are opened wide for you.
NET Matthew 11:28 Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke on you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and my load is not hard to carry."
1 Academic Community of St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology, The Orthodox Study Bible, Copyright © 2008 by St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology, published by Thomas Nelson, page 694
2 Andrew A. Bonar, Christ and His Church in the Book of Psalms, Copyright © 1978 by Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49501, pages 74-79
3 Charles H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, Volume One, Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, MA, pages 324-351